Are You Listening?
Hello Work World...we have a problem. The quality of communication is diminishing. We’re inundated with messages (email, voicemail, text), demands, meetings and deadlines. We barely have time to take it all in, let alone invest the time required to contemplate and respond. Google communication skills and you’ll find plenty of suggestions and “methods” to fixing or improving your communication skills. But how do you change the way people listen to you?
Increasing the quality and efficiency of conversations has the potential to lead to more effective decisions and deeper relationships in the workplace. Why do deeper relationships matter? People don’t work for companies, they work for the people that run them. If you listen and behave in a way that lets people know you care and then act on behalf of your employees you’re going to get the most out of them.
Better quality of conversations can also reduce what we call “the decision swirl”. I’ll bet you’ve experienced this. After a prolonged discussion on Topic Q, a decision is made. A week or so later, the decision is revisited, and another prolonged discussion takes place. A new decision is made. This time for good, right? Wrong. It rears its ugly head and the decision swirl continues.
Stop the swirl by encouraging good listening skills. This is easier said than done.Listening is difficult. How many times do you finish a sentence and the person or people you are speaking with acknowledge what you said, but don’t follow up with a relevant point? They were “listening” to you, but they were listening in order to speak.
The General Solution
Slow the conversation down. You’re most likely dealing with smart people whose minds move quickly. In order to keep them on task and focused, you have to slow it down. To do this, ask clarifying questions that demand input. Instead of asking “does that make sense?” ask them what they think about your solution. “What holes can you poke in this plan?” “How would you go about fixing this?” And then follow up with, “Help me understand why would you go about it that way...”
In addition to asking questions that require the listener to comment on what you’ve said, here are a few other listening tips to encourage good listening:
Make good eye contact as you engage in a conversation
Comment on and/or paraphrase what you’ve heard
Use open ended questions to engage the listener and gather insights
Use closed ended questions to focus the listener and get specifics
Ask the listener to summarize important “chunks” of the conversation and then summarize again at the end
Better listening leads to more efficient, high quality communication can reduce decision swirls, improve relationships and make work more enjoyable. By changing your listening behaviors you will demonstrate empathy and encourage others to do the same.